Military science fiction is my bread-and-butter. It’s the sub-genre I’ve always been drawn to, and have probably read the most from. So it’s a surprise that I’m just now reading this book, which, alongside Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, is a cornerstone of the genre. But here we are.
To cut to the chase, the book is as excellent as its numerous accolades would suggest. While I’ve always liked Starship Troopers, I think The Forever War may just supplant it at the top of my military science fiction hierarchy. This book is relatively light on politics, choosing to focus on the plight of the individual instead of the society. Politics and war are inseparable, of course, but Haldeman keeps it to the background.
Haldeman’s take on wars of the future is as realistic as he could make it for the time. Space travel is still mostly rooted in physics as we understand it today, with some small liberties to allow for interstellar travel using a version of wormholes. He paints a clear picture, but doesn’t get bogged down in the technical details.
The story is told from the first-person view of the main character, William Mandella, a victim of the first wave of conscription following the onset of the titular war. He is a mostly likeable every-man character with no glaring flaws to cause the reader to be unsympathetic to him. The only real biases present are that Mandella doesn’t really get homosexuality. He’s not opposed to it; it’s just not for him, and this causes some consternation later in the story.
The Forever War is very much a reflection of Haldeman’s experience as a veteran of the Vietnam War. He pays special attention the difficulty Mandella and the other veterans have reintegrating into a society that has (figuratively and literally) left them behind. The hopelessness and pointlessness of it all is a constant throughout the story. But The Forever War is much more than “The Vietnam War in space”. It has its own story to tell, and Haldeman tells it well. I definitely recommend giving it a read.